With estimable origins and a wide set of references, Manchester’s Working for a Nuclear Free City debuts with an album of impressive range and invigorating, albeit not entirely unrelenting, energy. Clearly enamored by 1990s sounds from the Stone Roses to the Chemical Brothers, the band blends rock and dance aesthetics together into an engaging set of songs almost as strong as a few from their influences. That ambition gets the better of them though, as they overextend their reach at the expense of intensity.
Where Working for a Nuclear Free City excels is fusing dance driven beats to rock arrangements. “The Tape” splashes and nods its way over a laid back breakbeat, while guitars chime and intertwine themselves into nigh Explosions in the Sky level grandeur. All bass bounce and synth stabs, “Troubled Son” is more deeply entrenched in electro, but maintains a ragged rock edge. A more subdued take on Happy Mondays, “Dead Fingers Talking” boasts breakdowns too intricate for heroin stupors, yet retains enough blissed-out elation to convey some kind of chemical revelry. As stimulating as these high-energy tracks can get, it’s the sheer diversity of the album that makes it such a bristling pleasure. There is an array of tones and textures at work, from the acid funk wah bass on “Innocence” to the crackling lo-fi acoustic opening of “Home”. Awash in echo, “Quiet Place” is a chorus of distant invocations over rubbery dub bass, while “England” is a short little lullaby repeating the euphonic phrase, “this pretty policeman”, until fading into the similarly laconic, yet locomotive, “Over”.
Ultimately this ambitious scope may undermine some songs as much as it defines and distinguishes them. Such a broad focus dilutes impact, leaving even the best tracks not as strong as they could be. While it exhibits great skill in building dynamic tension, the band has yet to demonstrate any capacity for rousing it to an apex. “Over” comes closest with its climax of electronic washes and sweeping static, but it all ends too soon, segueing into another narcotic intro. Still it’s hard to fault the band for not reaching the rafters when the whole of its debut is so consistently elevated over its running length. Well studied as it obviously is in a varied assortment of influences from dance and rock genres, the next lesson for the band to learn from its idols is how to harness those sounds and direct them into a defined conclusion. The Chemical Brothers, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, and Daft Punk mastered that within their respective aesthetics. Once Working for a Nuclear Free City can do the same, its already formidable strengths will finally attain the quaking ecstatic critical mass it’s clearly aiming for, regardless of its namesake.